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Obama strong in long-red Colorado

Demographic shifts may help turn the state blue.

By Staff writer / October 26, 2008

Obama campaign volunteers Florence Starks and Jeff Jamison chatted with undecided voter Jacques Elmaleh, with his son Andre, in Arvada, Colo., last week.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff


Littleton, Colo.

Jamie Guetz has always voted Republican – until now.“I guess we’re Obama supporters,” says Ms. Guetz, with a wry smile, as she heads into a Gap store in Littleton, Colo., with her daughter.

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Women’s rights and the war in Iraq have pushed her in a different direction. The woeful economy, she says, “is just icing on the cake.” Guetz’s parents, lifelong Republicans as well, will also be voting for Democrat Barack Obama.

Voters like Guetz are one reason Colorado, long a safe bet for Republican candidates, is moving into the Obama column.

Although the last Democratic presidential candidate to win more than 50 percent of the vote here was Lyndon Johnson, the state has been trending more liberal for years – a result of in-migration, demographic changes, and a rising sense among some moderate Republicans that the state and national party have moved too far to the right.

The latest polls give Obama a lead of six percentage points over John McCain.

“The new Colorado is just not that congenial to Republican politics at this point,” says Ruy Teixeira, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a coauthor of a recent report on the region. The state is still most friendly to its own version of moderate Rocky Mountain Democrats, but Obama’s lack of experience may have actually helped him with some voters here.

“Obama has done a good job of seeming like he’s not just another Democrat from Washington, and he’s done well on issues that people in Colorado are sensitive about,” says Mr. Teixeira. “He doesn’t seem like an ‘I’m going to take your guns away’ kind of Democrat.”

Colorado’s shift to the purple or blue column has been gradual. In 2004, President Bush won here by 5 percent, but Coloradans at the same time handed a GOP Senate seat to Democrat Ken Salazar. In 2006, the state elected a Democratic governor and put a majority of Democrats in both legislative houses for the first time in nearly a half century. In part, voters blamed the Republicans in power for a state fiscal crisis.

“The larger sweep of recent history [in Colorado] has been on the Democratic side,” says political scientist John Straayer at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Still, Senator McCain is a fellow Westerner, cultivates a maverick image that can play well here, and through July and August seemed to hold the edge in Colorado. Then came the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the economic crisis, and rising disenchantment with Mr. Bush and the Republicans.